I'm a beginner/intermediate sheet reader and struggling a bit with a current piano piece ("He sleeps" from Pretty Woman). The only arrangement I could find uses a notation which makes it hard to separate the voices and bring them in sync with the time signature. I'm currently trying to rearrange the score in an easier way for myself.

Some examples:


enter image description here what he actually plays in a video is: enter image description here



enter image description here which looks wrong to me and should be: enter image description here

and things are just getting worse from there with:


enter image description hereor enter image description hereor enter image description here

(all in 4/4)

Is this how multiple voices are usually written? I'm having a hard time figuring out which keys to press when and with what hand and always need to refer to videos so I can watch other people playing - which takes ages.

Can't this be written in an easier, more readable way like I tried in example 1 or am I missing something? I'm thinking about rewriting the entire score, but as I never did that before, it might not be the best approach (or even lead to more errors).

  • Is the arrangement online? Add a link. Was the original music for an ensemble? May 6, 2019 at 18:18
  • 3
    I think the arrangement you found was probably done on the cheap. It doesn’t look good to me. May 6, 2019 at 18:19
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    @MichaelCurtis The arrangement is not free available, but you can preview page 1 of 3 here. Examples 1 & 2 are taken from there - the rest is on page 2 or 3. The original music was never released, but yes, it's for an ensemble. The arranger also published a version for piano+violin and an easy piano version - which I didn't buy to not loose details.
    – Fabian
    May 6, 2019 at 19:27
  • Yes this is common, but not so weird as in your example. May 6, 2019 at 20:24
  • Example #1 is ugly and not fully correct: whole note tied to quarter - one voice, 5 beats. Six eighth-notes should have up-stems, they go with the high D half note. Bottom voice is the down-stem half plus dotted - half note. May 7, 2019 at 13:24

1 Answer 1


Is it common to combine multiple voices in one piano staff...

Yes, but stem directions should be used to indicate separate voices and rests should be used so that each voice has complete rhythm values for a measure.

...that might not even fit the time signature?

If the rhythm values for a voice don't fit the measure, that's a notation error.

I'll illustrate with one of the simple examples.

Both the original and your suggested change seem wrong to me.

The original should have had rests added for the upper voice.

enter image description here

You suggested change sets stem directions in a confusing way. When you point the double half note stem up that means it is the upper voice. You created a voice crossing which I think is hard to read, but also needs some strange additional rests to make each voice rhythmically complete.

enter image description here

Obviously, the repeated G5 can't be executed exactly as written on piano, because you have to release the key for the half note in one voice to play the quarter note in the other voice. The only reason to notate it that way is either to show conceptually there are multiple voice, or the arranger might expect a double keyboard set up, like when two organs are stacked up in a rock band. In this particular case, I think it's just a lame arrangement that didn't really attempt to create a good piano texture.

You could try to re-arrange it yourself, get a different arrangement, or just move on to another piece of music that is quality piano music.

  • Thanks! I wasn't aware of the stem rules. Wouldn't this then be the best solution to keep the amount of voices to a minimum? Or is it preferred to keep intervalls of same length in the same voice? That's just the left hand and if my brain has to interpret 5-6 voices that might be a bit too much (yet). And how would you handle 3+ voices like in my other examples? Find the best (but consistent) compromise for the "middle" voices?
    – Fabian
    May 7, 2019 at 5:33
  • I think the original with the additional rests is better, because it avoids the voice crossing. That's the first image in my answer. May 7, 2019 at 13:29

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